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History of Movie Theaters in Louisiana and the Surrounding Area

Louisiana is the state of Southern US where the human life gets many chances to cheer and entertain. In this state people of different classes and race live together including whites, African American and the Native Americans. (Lachance and Paul, p47) In this cultural diverse state of US people use to exchange lots of leisure activities to foster cultural exchange and people of different races use to dance, sing and share their values together.

While looking at the movie theater history in Louisiana and the surrounding areas, it is found that the people of these areas are the lover of dance, music and performances due to which the movie theaters remained important center for attention of the Louisianans and through out the history there are different movie theaters are being constructed to provide entertainment to the people as well as to propagate the cultural values. (Latrobe and Benjamin, p15) The history of Movie Theaters in Louisiana can be dated back to the eighteenth century.

The first theater was opened in the year 1972 at New Orleans in the era of colonialism. During the Spanish ruling period the administration used to finance this public dance hall with the help of the amount obtained from the lottery and licensing fee. The name of this first movie theater of the state was “El Coliseo (the Coliseum). In this theater different musician, comedians and actors used to perform until 1803. In the year 1803, the ruling force decides to demolish the building that served as the theater and for about a year this theater was closed for the public.

However in 1804 a white Saint-Domingue refugee worked for the remodeling and reopening of this theater. When this theater was reopened, a major changed was occurred in the theater as it was segregated by color. The white audiences were allowed to sit on the lower floor of the theater whereas the non whites have to find their places in the balcony. On every Sunday the theater presents the show that was enjoyed by many of the people of both the races and it is observed by the historians that like all other forms of entertainment, the people belonging to different races were collected together in this theater very brilliantly.

In 1804 when the “El Coliseo” was reconstructed it was also renamed and the new mane of the first movie theater of Louisiana was “St. Peter Street Theater” (Tregle et al, p20) As the city began to grow in population, the entertainment cited requirement was also increased and people start realizing that there is need of some more entertainment cite like Movie Theater etc in the city. In the year 1802, this issue was raised in front of the government by the members of the cabildo confronted Governor Manuel de Salcedo.

They demanded the government a large as well as centrally located theater in the city so that the growing entertainment demands of the people of Louisiana could be fulfilled. However the governor did not liked this demand and he asked the members of cabildo to remain quite on these matters as he did not consider them important. Due to this reason the establishment of new theater was very slow and till the year 1940, there were just five movie theaters present in the city.

However New Orleans became the great theater town of that period where the visitors and residents can attend different plays and movies in French, English, or German. (Morazan and Ronald, p310) In 1807 there was another theater constructed in Louisiana named St. Philip Street Theater. This theater was constructed with the seating capacity of 700 people. In this theater the movies and the plays were used to be presented in French. In the year 1823, there was the opening of first American theater in Louisiana and it was located on the Camp Street (Peters and Martha, p211)

The German immigrants also worked for showing the German plays in the city and as a result of their efforts there was the first German movie theater built in Louisiana on the Magazine Street in New Orleans. This theater was opened in the year 1839 and German plays were offered in this theater. Later in 1840 there was another theater opened in New Orleans, “Theatre de la enaissance”. This theater was unique in a sense that all the actors, musicians, orchestra, artists and music directors were black.

This theater became an important source of entertainment for the people with a clientele primarily made up of creoles and adjoining ball- and supper-rooms. An African American performer Eugene V. Macarty used to perform in this theater for many years that got the training from France. (Morazan and Ronald, p310) In the year 1859, there were two French opera houses opened in New Orleans that provide the seating capacity to 2078 people. These opera houses were constructed with fast speed and took less then six month to be constructed.

For the first time the government also the builders to burn large fires in the streets so that the workers can get light from those fires. These theaters were considered as important land mark in the history of theater in city and they caught the attention of the people very soon after their opening. In this way the theaters became integral part of the civilians and visitors of Louisiana and the theater groups perfuming in New Orleans and Baton Rouge also started the trend of traveling theaters and provide entertainment to the people of rural town circuit. (Latrobe and Benjamin, p15)

The constitution of the country under the Article 13 of the 1868 clarified that the theaters and the opera houses are supposed to be the “places of public character but in practice many of the owners and operators of the theaters of the city ignore this requirement and they used to arrange racial segregated seating patterns in their theater. After the severe Depression of 1873, some of the theaters were also closed due to the charge of racial discrimination. (Lachance and Paul, p47) The history of Louisiana is marked with the names of the many movie theaters that serve as the center of flourishing entertainment for the African Americans.

Among them an important name is the Iroquois theater that is located at New Orleans, Louisiana. It is an important theater in the movie theater history of this place because it was one of the most creative centers of the area that was basically the vaudeville and silent movie theater and along with that musicians also used to play Jazz and Blues so that they can accompany different stage acts as well as files. It was one of the most important and resourceful training ground for the young musicians because through this theater many of the local musicians and player get the exposure to the national touring acts.

This theater was also caught the attention of the African American businesses towards this area during the first half of the twentieth century (African American Feature Web Page) The Saeneger is also one of the important movie theaters of Louisiana that is located in New Orleans. This movie theater possesses great importance from the historical point of view because it is the only remaining theater of Abe Saeger Theater Empire. This theater is very old and was opened for the public on the 4th of February 1927. $2. 5 million were spent on its construction and the construction took three years. There is capacity of 4000 seats in this theater.

This theater use to please the audience with a silent movie and a stage play. The stage play presented in this theater used to be the production of the Paramount Publix Corporation whereas Saenger Grand Orchestra worked for the music composition of the play and the movie. After two years of its opening the owner of the theater Julian Saenger sold the theater and then Paramount Publix became the successful operator of this theater. In 1933 it was converted in to the talking pictures only and later in 1964 it was turned in to a piggyback theater and two theaters were created within its building.

In the year 1977 the New Orleans Landmark Commission gave the theater the designation of a historical landmark and in the same year it was also added to the national register of the historic places. A unique feature of this theater was that, on its opening it also included 778-pipe Robert Morton Organ that was the largest ever instrument built by the legendary Robert Morton Organ Company. At present this organ is present in the theater, though there are very few organs of Robert Morgan that are at their original installation position in the country to date.

This theater was renovated in the year 1978 by E. B. Breazeale and then it became a performing art center. When it was reopened in 1980, there was reduction in the seating capacity of the theater and only 2800 seats were available in the theater for the people. When it was reopened a gala performance was made by Johnny Carson. In the year 2002 the theater celebrated its 75th anniversary by showing three classical movies “Some like It Hot, The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind”.

The theater was badly affected in the incident of Hurricane Katrina and till now it is not reopened because the damages took too much time to be repaired. In this way this important landmark of the movie theater history of Louisiana is facing the after effects of a natural disaster even till today. (National Register of Historic Places, n. p) Many of the movie theaters present in Louisiana are now demolished or converted in to some other places. For example the Old Joy Theater was a movie theater situated on the Texas Street that has been demolished many years ago (Billy Smith, p2).

The Joy Theater was regarded as the most scandalous theater of the state because there were mostly sexual, horror, science fiction and shameful movies shown in this theater and the people liking that particular types of movies went to this theater. The other people see it as a forbidden fruit and always try to prevent their family and specially children from going there. Joy Houck was the operator and owner of the Joy Theater who used to run three theaters in North Louisiana with same name. After some year this theater was closed and a hat store was moved to the building where the theater used to show the movies and plays.

(Billy Smith, p2) The other important theaters of Louisiana before the 1950s include “The Don, The magnificent Strand, The Majestic and the Capitol”. Among these theaters most of the building became the clothing stores or office building and very few theaters remained at their places for long time. Among them the Strand Theater has been restored on to a legitimate theater (Billy Smith, p2). The name of the Saenger brother possesses great importance in the history of the movie theater in Louisiana because these brothers have made notable contribution in the history of Movie Theater in Louisiana.

These brothers were basically pharmacist however they have realized the need of constructing more movie theaters in the state so that more people can get the sources of entertainment. These brother collected money for the movie theater through 1-cent peep show (“kinetograph”) that stood in their drug store and with the help of this money they became ably to construct chain of 320 movie houses in South Louisiana. These movie houses were built under the name of the Saenger Amusement Company. Some of the most important and popular movie theaters of south Louisiana are credited on the account of Saenger Theaters Empire.

For example there was a movie theater constructed in 1924 under the name of Texakana. There was the capacity of 1606 seats in this movie theater. Later this theater was renamed as Perot Movie Theater. In the same way the Shreveport Movie Theater was established in 1925 with the seating capacity of 1614 people. This movie theater was also renamed and at present it is called as the Strand Movie Theater. Another movie theater constructed by these brothers was the Pensacola Movie Theater that was constructed in 1925 and offers the seating capacity to 1794 people. The Mobile movie theater was established in 1926 that offers seats to 1993 people.

The New Orleans Theater was established in 1927 and that time there was seating capacity for 4000 people in the theater but when it was reopened after renovation, the theater offered 1736 seats to the audiences. Hattiesburg Movie Theater was opened in 1929 that has the seating capacity of 1000 people. These movie theaters are still present in the southern Louisiana and some of them are renovated and renamed as per requirement of the changing situations. The people in large numbers use to have lot of entertainment and pleasure through watching movies, shows and plays in these theaters.

Thus the Saenger brother contribute valuable share in the history of the movie theaters in Louisiana. The history of the movie theater in Louisiana mainly revolves around the New Orleans because most of the movie theater of the state were established and operated in that city however the surrounding areas of Louisiana are culturally rich as well and for centuries people of these areas also use to satisfy their entertainment desires through watching movies and plays by going to the move theaters. In Texas etc also there were many movie theaters built and became important source of entertainment for the people.

For example in East Texas, Jefferson Theater stands as a historical landmark of the twentieth century that is also regarded as the “most glamorous architectural relics of the Roaring Twenties in Texas”. The theater was opened in the year 1927. Till now this theater is serving the city as a handful of restored movie palace where different movies as well as classical performances are presented in front of people. This theater is a valuable cultural heritage for the people of the city that continued to entertain the inhabitants and visitors of the city for many years under the management of the Julius Gordon.

The theater used to offer the audiences different traveling stage shows, vaudeville, and top-of-the-line movies. There was space of 1500 people in the theater however when till 1972, the situation became worst for the management of theater due to the arrival of advanced theaters and TV due to which the theater was closed as a movie house and after few decades it was renovated and restored and finally on 7th November 2003, there was grand re opening of the Jefferson theater and till then the theater is successfully grabbing the attention of large number of audiences by showing them different movies, plays and shows.

In the same way the Shreveport-Bossier City is also an important cultural point for the people where the theaters are present to satisfy the entertainment and cultural needs for the people. In this city also there are many movie theaters present like the East Bank Theater that offers variety of community theaters. In the same way the Shreveport Little Theater also serve the city by showing people theaters of various types.

The Strand Theater built in 1925 is also an important part of the theater scene of the city. The name of this theater is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. An important theater of Louisiana of the present day is the Robinson Film Theater that is located in Shreveport, Louisiana that is regarded as a great source of entertainment for the people. This non profit organization is also regarded as an important resource for film making as well as for film education.

It is an important theater to discuss in the history of movie theaters in Louisiana because it is not just a movie theater but also a hub for filmmaking activities that is aimed at serving the needs of the film makers and it also encourages the film making at different levels starting from the grade school classes to the million dollar film production (National Register Information System, n. p). There are two state of the art movie theaters present in the Robinson film center and these theaters were designed by Glenn Berggren who has the record of winning the Academy award for six times.

These two theaters are Willis Knighton Health System Theater and Craig Kennedy Ball Oxygen Theater. The first one i. e. the Knighton Health System Theater is larger then the second one having the capacity of 135 patrons seating. It offers the digital programs viewing facilities including high definition contents. In the second Kennedy Theater there is capacity of just 48 seating patrons however this theater also provides the viewing facilities including high definition contents. (National Register Information System, n. p)

Another important movie theater of Louisiana is the Shaw Center for the Art that is an important venue for the performing arts as well as fine arts. This theater is located at the Lafayette Street in downtown Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This theater was built with the help of the funding gathered from different public as well as private resources. The naming rights of the theater were given to the Shaw group as this group is the major donor of the theater but despite giving them the naming right, it is also a fact that the museum is not regarded as the property of the Shaw Group or any other donor.

The design architect of the theater was Schwartz who belongs to the Silver Architects located in Boston. (Russel, p52) Another big name in the history of the movie theaters of Louisiana is “Swine Palace” that was created by a non-profit professional theatre company. This theater is also associated with the Louisiana State University Department of Theatre in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The importance of this movie theater in the history of Louisiana can be understood by the fact that most of the times this theater uses to present the celebrated works of Southern literature and the innovative exploration of classic and contemporary theatre.

Due to this reason this theater as great impact on the cultural as well as on the economic landscape of Louisiana. This theater is also a resource of arts and theater education for the people of Louisiana and in 2007 this theater also got the honor of producing the world premiere of renowned theatre director Ping Chong’s Cocktail written by Vince LiCata and Ping Chong. This work was praised by all the experts and the cultural value of this theater become more significant. (Orion Foundry, p1)

The Shreveport Little Theater is another prominent theater that is located in the Northern Louisiana. This is almost 87 years old Movie Theater and regarded among the nation’s oldest continually active theaters. It was opened in the year 1922 and the first performance of the theater was made in the City Hall. The performers of the movie theater use to perform at their permanent venue as well as on other places. There are various performances made by this movie theater performer at various locations including local synagogue, Grand Opera House.

This movie theater was burnt in fire 1986 and was badly destroyed however the renovation works started very soon and it is continued till date because the stage house of the theater is in the process of rebuilding. This theater is regarded as an important platform for the propagation of the African American culture because the founder company of this movie theater “Upstage Theatre Company” is aimed at making this theater as a platform where the talent, passion, creativity, cultural and social values of the African-Americans could be explored, expressed and shared (Orion Foundry, p1).

In Louisiana the most affordable as well as enjoyable source of entertainment and watching movies are the movie theaters where people used to enjoy the movies and plays with their friends and family. Benefited with a deep rooted and flourishing history of movie theaters the state of Louisiana and the surrounding areas are regarded as important places of entertainment and pleasure where lot of joy comes from theaters. The historians as well as the entertainment experts guarantee that the people found of comedies, drama, tragedies, or musicals will always have good time in Louisiana movie theaters.

The emphasis on games and fun make the Louisiana movie theater unique from the movie theaters of the other areas (Orion Foundry, p1) Along with the passage of time there are major changes occurred in the movie theaters of Louisiana as well. The traditional movie theaters of the state still have some stand and even video arcades that allow the entire family full accommodation for a night to watch the movie. On the other hand most of the modern and new movie theaters of the state facilitate the audience with state of art surround sound and comfort of stadium seating.

As the technology brings new advancements and ideas in the field of movie theaters as well, the movie theater of Louisiana also became more special and unique for the visitors and the residents. At present there are about 62 movie theaters in Louisiana where there are about 512 screens located (average 8. 3 screens per theater). Thirteen of these theaters provide the facility of online tickets to the movie lovers whereas the average tickets of adults is worth $6. 43. (Orion Foundry, p1)

Work Cited

African American Feature Page (2003), “Eagle Saloon, Karnofsky Tailor Shop and House, and Iroquois Theater National park series” Online Available at: http://www. nps. gov/history/nR/feature/afam/2003/Index. htm Billy B. Smith (1999), the Joy Theater of Shreveport Online Available: http://www. texasescapes. com/They-Shoe-Horses-Dont-They/Joy-Theater-of-Shreveport-Louisiana. htm Lachance, Paul F. (1982), “Intermarriage and French Cultural Persistence in Late Spanish and Early American New Orleans,” Journal of Social History 15 47–81

Latrobe, Benjamin H (1951), “Impressions Respecting New Orleans: Diary and Sketches, 1818–1820. Edited by Samuel Wilson, Jr. New York: Columbia University Press Morazan, Ronald R. , ed. and trans. “‘Quadroon’ Balls in the Spanish Period. ” LH 14 (summer 1973): 310–15 National Register Information System (2007), Robinson film center, National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service Online available at: http://www. nr. nps. gov/ National Register of Historic Places (2003), National Register Information System, National Park Service

Orion Foundry (2008), Louisiana Movie Theatres, Orion Foundry (US), Inc http://www. louisianamovietheatres. com/about-us. cfm Peters, Martha Ann(1960), “The St. Charles Hotel: New Orleans Social Center, 1837–1860. “, LH1 (summer 1960): pp191–211 Russel, A. (2005), “Low rider”, In Architecture Magazine, Volume 94, pp52–57 Tregle, Joseph G. , Jr. (1952), “Early New Orleans Society: A Reappraisal. ” Journal of Southern History 18 (February 1952): pp20–36

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